Veterans

Blue Ear Books is committed to an ongoing project of developing and publishing books by American military veterans. We want to provide a platform for honest accounts of personal experience that we hope will help bridge the gap in understanding and empathy between veterans and the civilian public.

Our interest in veterans’ stories began around 2014, when Jeb Wyman asked me to be the publisher of a book he wanted to do of oral history accounts by combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeb had become motivated to pursue such a project because many of his writing students at Seattle Central College were turning in class assignments that recounted their experiences in war and challenges in returning to civilian society. Over several years, Jeb’s project evolved into What They Signed Up For: True Stories by Ordinary Soldiers (2017). The book features 18 combat veterans telling their own stories in their own words; Jeb is its author, or editor, in the sense that he did the hard work of listening closely and at length to each of the veterans, and then of gleaning the essential story within each long transcript. The short foreword that Jeb asked me to write for What They Signed Up For is online. A second editor of the book is being planned.

During the same period I was regularly visiting Texas Christian University, working with TCU colleagues on the Discovering Global Citizenship initiative, which is documented in my book A Dirt Road to the Future: Education on the Global Front Lines. On one of my visits my colleague James English introduced me over lunch to Maj. April E. Brown, USMC (ret.), TCU’s Director of Veterans Services. As I remember it, within about 48 hours of that lunch April had decided that I was going to edit a similar book of accounts by veterans affiliated with TCU. Over the next five years, that idea developed into an extraordinary project, published in 2020 by TCU Press and edited by April and me with Kit Snyder, titled Voices of America: Veterans and Military Families Tell Their Own Stories. At April’s urging, Voices of America features not only the experiences of combat veterans but the full gamut of military life, all the way back to World War II and including peacetime and home front service as well as military family life. One thing I find myself saying often is that Voices of America is a model: Any American university or college could, and I would say should, compile a similar collection.

As a result of our work on Voices of America, TCU Press asked me to collaborate with Eugene Smith on his memoir of his life since surviving, at age 21, the November 18, 1978 mass murder-suicide at Jonestown, Guyana. The resulting book, Back to the World: A Life after Jonestown (TCU Press, 2021), is perhaps the book I’m proudest of having worked on in my thirty-year writing career. Eugene’s story is largely about continuing to live after having lost everything – his mother, wife and instant son all perished in Jonestown – and finding meaning and purpose in long-term survival. Eugene related that the United States government, along with much of American society, made it “pretty obvious … ‘We don’t want you back in the US.’ And Guyana made it clear too: ‘We don’t want you here either.’ But there was nowhere else for me to go.”

No, I had to continue living. And I couldn’t take myself out, at least not purposely. Now, going 140 miles an hour in an Alfa Romeo or on a motorcycle, if I get killed, oh well. It’s like, “Oh, it was an accident.” If I get shot, “Oh well, it’s an accident, but I didn’t do it on purpose.” It’s the same as with some combat veterans. That’s why I didn’t have an issue when I worked at Standard Oil in the eighties, because those guys were all ex-military. They’d say, “Where’d you fight at?” I said, “I fought [growing up] in Fresno. My combat boots were Converse.” They’d laugh. I’d say, “I’m serious. My combat boots were Converse. At least you had combat boots.” That’s how I felt then, that’s how I feel now. But I’m okay now. I don’t have the anger that I once had.

Another outgrowth of Voices of America is Consequences: An Intelligence Officer’s War (2020) by David Grantham. David contributed two fine written pieces to Voices of America, and I was impressed and intrigued enough to suggest that he write a book about his deployment to Iraq. He was game, and the work we did together on Consequences offers an excellent model of how a Blue Ear Books book can be conceived, developed, and brought to publication. David speaks eloquently about that process in this 14-minute video interview.

I’m currently editing Stories from the Front: Pain, Betrayal, and Resilience on the MST Battlefield by Colonel Lisa Carrington Firmin, USAF (ret.), for publication in April 2022, to mark the grim second anniversary of the murder at Fort Hood, Texas of the soldier Vanessa Guillén. The term military sexual trauma (MST) covers sexual abuse and harassment that many female as well as male servicemembers have had to endure during their military service. Former Marine Stesha Colby-Lynch, who is featured in Lisa’s book, is also writing her own book for publication by Blue Ear Books. And finally – for now – we are in the early stages of planning an oral history book, told by veterans themselves, covering the full twenty years of the American war in Afghanistan. If you’re interested in learning more about that project, or contributing to it, you can email afghanistan@blueearbooks.com or contact me directly.

Ethan Casey, Publisher, October 16, 2021